Nokuit – Live at Cafe OTO MC NKT 2020
My first introduction to Nokuit was on the Patterns Of Instability tape from 2017, which I described as ‘an abstract but very effective sound-score to a modern dystopian film’. That impression is equally applicable here, and is partially reflected in the promo blurb: ‘A soundtrack to a film that has left its screenwriters behind, the unshackled camera runs riot across the set before drifting in on itself and out into the world, asleep at the wheel’.
In kicking off the 32-minute live set, low crowd chatter can be heard at the start of the tape indicating the nature of the recording. But when the music hits its full stride, based on the tonal bulk, volume, and sonic detailing, I assume that the recording was taken directly from the soundboard and further tweaked and mastered in post-production. As a recording it unfurls as a singular interlinking live piece; segments of doomy synths from Patterns Of Instability are noted, blended with segments from other releases with which I am not familiar. Melodically melancholic synths and piano lines, and muted mechanized post-industrial debris, are the general order of the day. Charred and digitally crisp tonal slashes give a real sense of live improvisation, and are used to underscore and interlink the longer moody droning passages. News report chatter and other dialogue samples sporadically appear, further reinforcing the filmic quality, yet rather than being clear in intent or message they suggest a vague dystopian atmosphere.
Being far from a mere document of a live performance, Live at Cafe OTO is equally as strong a release as Patterns Of Instability. Although clearly aligned with the cinematically-tinged post-industrial / dark ambient sounds of the underground, I get the distinct impression that the artist behind Nokuit comes from a refined world of sound design and trained composers given the degree of tonal, sonic, and melodic refinement. But regardless of artistic angle, this is a worthy release and I am intrigued as to what will come from the Nokuit camp in future.
Envenomist & Murderous Vision – Liminal Presence CD Live Bait Recording Foundation 2019
Being more than familiar with Murderous Vision’s dark ambient and death industrial output (which now spans decades), this is less the case with Envenomist, who have released around two dozen albums issued since the mid 2000’s. Of those albums I have only heard the Chariots LP from 2007, and while tagged as dark ambient and drone, it also stood out for its tensile, animated and invasive sound. On Liminal Presence, it is a part collaboration and part split, and by that I meant that each project contributes four tracks each, while the album is bookended by a further two collaborative tracks. But unlike typical splits which effectively segments a release into halves, here the track order is mixed between projects. So rather than seeking to identify ‘who did what’ this review has considered the album as a whole (although it warrants a mention that Murdurous Vision’s contributions sit towards a dark ambient than death industrial sound).
As an overall comment Liminal Presence sits at the ambient and abstracted end of sonic expression, and excels with its blend of caustic industrial drone and abstracted and tensile sub-orchestral ambiences. As a general observation deep rumbling industrial drones are cut across with shrill sonic textures resembling orchestral strings, while in other tracks muted and sustained piano notes reinforce the dank sub-orchestral tone. The pacing is slow and unhurried, yet some occasional looped rhythmic textures provide a sense of laborious forward momentum. Equally the production has a widescreen breadth, while equally being deep and cavernous, which either sprawls out towards the event horizon, or otherwise sonically spirals downward into an unfathomable yawning abyss. The chosen track titles function as being vividly representative of what to expect, with applicable examples including: Time Dilation, Sleepwalker, Naked Singularities, Fathomless Light, Inverted Realm & Liminiferous Aether.
While clearly being a genre-oriented piece given that it does not seek to being in new elements or approaches to dark ambient/drone, Liminal Presence remains as an expertly executed which maintain attention and interest throughout. As may be expected for this type of material, listening to this on headphones perhaps yields best sonic results. A 6 panel cardboard digi-sleeve round out the presentation with artistically abstracted shapes, in a limitation of 300 copies.
Post Scriptvm – Variola Vera LP Tesco Organisation 2019
Variola Vera comes as the eighth album for Post Scriptvm in twenty years of activity. While the project has perhaps slightly flown under the radar compared to other post-industrial projects, they continue to blend, splice and manipulate elements of dark ambient, death industrial, and heavy / power electronics into quite uniquely sounding material.
As with earlier works, the broader feel of the album is one of a paranoid ‘Kafkaesque’ disassociated miasma of ever shifting sound textures, sonics treatments and disembodied voices, which equally would not be out of place as an alternative sound-score to the classic sci-fi film Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky. Yet these impressions do not cut to the core of the album’s theme, given the promotional notes identify that it is: ‘Titled after the outbreak of smallpox in the 1970s socialist Yugoslavia, unintentionally brought in by the pilgrims returning from a quest for divine illumination, Variola Vera is the soundtrack to the somatic and the metaphysical epidemics steering the human enterprise towards its termination’.
For its broadly consistent stylistic approach Born Into Trauma stands out based on its partly experimental and partly heavy electronics menace. Infected with a mutant strain of industrial techno, interestingly an underpinning bass kick is entirely absent, yet the techno pulse remains as a constant thread, while the aggressive, treated vocals push a perilous tone. Another particular album standout which functions to draw together all preceding sonic threads is Storm Puppets based on wonky and warbling intertwining textures and processed scrap metal clatter which are pushed into a heavy electronics expression, complete with treated, seething vocals is one of the album’s standouts. Fondamenta Degli Incurabili concludes the album with a piece of floating abstracted melancholia, where muted synth melodies float and waver. Mid-track some slow thumping and rhythmic textures emphasized a drugged sway which carries the album to its conclusion.
Rather than being any sort of significant deviation from Post Scriptvm, this is an album which demonstrates a honing and refinement of their established sound, which is subtlety more active, varied and sonically complex, building to occasional moments of menace and aggression. Clearly Variola Vera will absolutely be to the liking of ardent followers of the project, yet it is also important to highlight that it is also some of the strongest and varied material to come from the project yet. The printed cover and inner sleeve rounds out the visual side of things with darkly abstracted and slightly surreal visuals. Yes, this is recommended.
Deutsch Nepal – Staring At My Wall CD Entartete Musikk 2019
By now Lina Baby Doll’s project Deutsch Nepal is recognised as a long standing, unique and ever dependent fixture of the post-industrial underground. Staring At My Wall comes some four years on from 2014’s Alcohology, although in between there was a couple of splits and compilation collections, as well as a vocal collaboration album Easting the Dust with Reutoff.
In leaping straight in, the music of the opening title track is notable as it specifically harks back to the classic sound of the long regarded classic first album Deflagration of Hell. As such the stellar track features mid paced hypnotic looped rhythms, driving beat and dark drones, while the vocals themselves are also recognised from the track Terrible Place featured on the collaboration album with Reutoff. With this basic structure set, the album rolls through collection of tracks of quintessential vocal lead Deutsch Nepal compositions. This means that some tracks are ambient and mellow, while others are more direct based on looped percussion and bass rhythms, all the while Lina’s bellowed and crooned vocals gives an immediately distinct edge. Butterfly is then notable as it charts both of these styles, where the first passage is a mellow ambient soundscape, before launching into a rousing looped rhythmic and vocal led passage for the balance of the track. How Low in its original form was on 1999’s Erosion but is featured here in a completely new version titled How Low… 2017. While the original featured low crooned vocals and an atmospheric soundscape articulating a floating drugged haze, here in its new version it features brute force martial percussion and commanding vocal delivery, thus very much feels to be a completely different track. Pasolini also stands out positively brooding orchestral drones, muted ticking/ swaying rhythmic elements and surreal and dreamlike lyrics. The final track Let Go And Slip Away then completely surprises given its upbeat and happy ditty of a melody and sporadic hand-clapped beat, yet with Lina’s vocals and mid track twist into nightmarish territory provides enough of a surreal edge to keep a foot squarely in the Deutsch Nepal camp.
With near enough to three decades of activity by now Deutsch Nepal should be a household name in the post-industrial underground. So, while on one hand Staring At My Wall certainly delivers a sound that could only be from mind of Lina. But on the other this new album is both playfully creative and addictively engaging, and a clear demonstration that Lina is still on his game. A worthy addition to the Deutsch Nepal discography.
Aural Hypnox – Underworld Transmissions CD Aural Hypnox 2019
This CD represents the closing of the Underworld Transmissions series as it collates together the three earlier cassettes issued in 2014 and 2015. Of those earlier releases each contained two tracks each, thus totalling six tracks and nearly 60 minutes of music on this collated album. To quote from the cover regarding the concept and series, it states: “Underworld Transmissions was Aural Hypnox label series, filmed and captured on tape in the private séances held in our subterranean lodge located in Oulu, Northern Ostrobothnia. The concept was to invite artists from the Helixes collective, in different combinations, to join a séance and to establish through sound and movement an elemental communication. In greater sense, apart from personal goals, these séances aimed to bring forth the seasonal currents of the lodge; the undertone of the Aural Hypnox label and the artists involved. Each séance was guided by a unique automatic-portal-portrait reflecting the planetary and stellar distances seen at that particular time in the lodge altar mirror-receiver. All audio was captured live on tape by using binaural recording technique. Films were captured during séances and also in the preceding and subsequent sessions that took place in Other Rooms and in the surrounding wilderness. The candles have been extinguished; transmissions completed”.
Due to the apparent improvisational nature, the musical output of the Underworld Transmissions series sits more at the abstract end of label’s discography, and in sonic terms this is possibly most comparable to the minimalist style of Aural Holograms (a lone album was released by Aural Hypnox back in 2007). Séance I/2013 (November 2013) and is a composition of deep subterranean atmospheres, slow sustained drones generated by sparse bowed and blown instruments. Additionally some distant chants appear to mark the path, and assist in evoking a minimalist meditative aura. Séance I/2014 (January 2014) follows, and although still minimalist in style is slightly more animated, with a mid-pointed tonal range and wavering notes looping in a non-melodious patterns. Moving onto Séance II/2014 (March 2014) the track takes a short moment to get going but quickly elevates into a heavily cinematic, ritual ambient soundscape. Although drones form the compositional backbone, tense and urgent abstract sounds sweep and pan through the speakers, coupled with sustained atonal horn and string notes which rise to elevated crescendos of almost modern classical proportions (Penderecki certainly comes to mind in the later more animated sections of the piece). Séance III/2014 (April, 2014) then evokes a dank catacomb atmosphere with slow pounding ritualised thump, buried chants and abstract scraping/ creaking textural sounds, which at its sonic peak is not too far from a death industrial style. Great in other words. Moving towards the back of the collection, Séance IV / 2014 (July 2014) is a hazy atonal soundscape of shifting analogue drones and creaking sonorities which cyclically build to forceful sonic impact. Séance I / 2015 (January 2015) concludes the set which follows similar sonic paths, although is embedded with a more mysterious tone within its droning dark ambient frame.
Being housed in an oversized, screen printed cardboard cover, with a 16-page xeroxed booklet it is a fitting closure to the concept and séance cycle. Likewise with each of the original tapes being limited to mere 50 copies, this CD reissue a slightly larger run at 150, but clearly it won’t be available for long given how well the physical editions of the Aural Hypnox label engages with the fetishist collectors mindset.
Ergomope – Етиологии 2xMC AMEK 2019
AMEK are a Bulgarian underground experimental label and while I have not followed all of their output, from what I have heard they are releasing a decent amount of atypical post-industrial music. In this context I have not come across the Ergomope project before, but that is also perhaps explained by the fact that Етиологии appears to be their only release to date.
Opening with short experimental and evocative piano motif which has been layered and treated in studio, it immediately catches attention in the most positive of ways, before shifting off into a length 15-minute track framed around grey hued sonic treatments of obviously urban based field records. But not to be based on raw field recordings alone, those elements are coupled with sonically melodious and shimmering drones which blend and intertwine and carries the material forward at a generally unhurried pace. Likewise, though a number of tracks the minimalist field recordings elements have been looped for vaguely rhythmic effect, while on occasion the drones and field recordings elevate in pressure and force towards an heavier post-industrial frame of reference, where the sound builds to a peak before recedes again. In other sections there appears to be what sounds like abstracted playing of a treated piano, and sections of shrill orchestral strings and percussion which have been mutated in a studio environment. Of individual note, lengthy track Whiteout functions as a sort of album centrepiece given its more prominent musicality, including layered piano playing, plucked string instruments, and elevating melodious drones late in the track.
Clearly there is lot to digest across the two cassettes, amounting to a run time of around 80 minutes. But with emotive experimental ambiental music such as this, appreciation is rewarded from an unhurried listening, allowing the shifting and morphing sonics to unfurl at their own pace. For the sake of comparison, the likes of the material released on Touch, and specifically the likes of Fennesz and BJ Nilsen comes strongly to mind, which is testament to the quality of this material, despite its relative obscurity. In then noting that the Black Sea is referenced in the promo text, and is a title of a Fennesz album, perhaps my comparative impressions are more than mere coincidence? Either way this has been both an enjoyable and rewarding listen.
Trepaneringsritualen – ᛉᛦ – Algir; Eller Algir I Merkstave LP Cold Spring 2019
After a run of strong albums framed around vocal driven, rhythmic death industrial compositions, Trepaneringsritualen (TxRxP) has chosen to take an abrupt left-hand turn (onto the left hand path?) to deliver an extremely minimalist ritual dark ambient album, thus harks back to an earlier phase of the project. In fact this new instrumental album is so minimal and ritualized in style, it would not at all be out of place on the Aural Hypnox label.
Compositionally this album consists of two lengthy nineteen-minute tracks, each titled with the algiz rune, but noting for the second track the algiz rune has been inverted. To glean meaning from this, in its upturned position, the algiz rune can be interpreted as a human with upraised arms to received the protection, guidance and wisdom from the Universe. But in its inverted position can be interpreted as meaning hidden dangers for the self and the need to reflect and look within as part of the process of gaining strength and connecting with higher self. Yet even with the cover image of the algiz rune formed by tree branches, based on the spartan artwork and text in Swedish, how the algiz runes should be interpreted in context of this album remains unclear.
Sonically speaking the atmosphere is one of bass driven tonal depth and catacombic echo, where blackened washes of archaic drones blend with reverb drenched ritual percussive sounds, including: deep catatonic drum hits; sparse gongs; wailing horns; ritual chimes; singing bowls, low atonal piano notes etc. Yet for all of its apparent minimalism, this album is one that immediately draws you into its sinister clutches and does not loosen its grip for the entire album duration, particularly given the ample tensile sonic elements which keep interest and engagement throughout. Although cut into two separate tracks, the sound effectively plays out at an album length track as the sound between the two pieces bridges the same pace and articulates visions in the mind’s eye of a ritual ceremony being conducted in the falling twilight on the damp forest floor, while tree limbs creak and sway in response to the winds gusting through treetops far above. Also of note is the deep shuddering thud featuring at the start and end of the album album, as if sonically representing the opening and subsequent closing of a ritual cycle.
Prior to the release of this album, perhaps I had assumed that TxRxP would continue to forge ahead with a song-based approach. That impression has been proven to be completed incorrect, but at the same time, ᛉᛦ – Algir; Eller Algir I Merkstave is an exceptional example of minimalist and strongly meditative ritual dark ambient music, and completely takes me back to the earliest days of when I started listening to this type of music. Recommended.